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Francis Frith and the Near East

Francis Frith produced several hundred early views of England and Wales from 1860, but he is chiefly remembered for his Egyptian and Near East.
Francis Frith And The Near East
© 2016 National Museums Scotland

Francis Frith (1822-98) trained as a merchant, but decided after an illness to take some time off, travelling first in Egypt and then the Middle East. The photographs he took there were marketed successfully to an eager public, building the basis of his most profitable and long-lasting photography business.

Image: Stereocard depicting a crocodile on a sand bank in the River Nile, by Francis Frith, 1856 – 1857. IL.2003.44.6.10.378 © Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

Frith made three significant journeys through Egypt, Syria and Palestine in 1856/57, 1857/58 and 1859/60. He established a relationship with Negretti and Zambra, a London company which originally produced scientific and optical instruments before operating a photographic studio and eventually becoming best known as a publisher of stereoviews.

Frith’s series Stereoscopic Views in the Holy Land, Egypt, Nubia, etc. was published by Negretti and Zambra in 1858, and enjoyed significant commercial success.

Image: Stereocard depicting the Temple of Dakkeh, Nubia, by Francis Frith, 1856 – 1857. IL.2003.44.6.10.357 © Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

In 1859 Frith established his own photography printing and publishing company ‘Frith & Co.’ in Reigate, England, which allowed him to publish his own books of photography from his international travels alongside his more local views of the British countryside. Frith also exhibited his photographs from his journeys, including a 2.5 metre length panorama of Cairo. If you are interested in panoramic photography, you can find out more here.

Image: Stereocard depicting the portico of the Temple of Dendera, by Francis Frith, 1856 – 1857. IL.2003.44.6.10.370 © Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

The demand for Frith’s images from the Near East was such that it was estimated that more than 152,000 plates were made from his negatives, and an 1860 folio edition of Egypt, Sinai and Jerusalem presented twenty mammoth plate photographs for the discerning (and wealthy) client. By 1862 a four volume set of his work from all three Near Eastern expeditions was published – the ultimate in armchair travel.

Image: Stereocard depicting the Temple of Edfou, of the Grecian Period, by Francis Frith, 1856 – 1857. IL.2003.44.6.10.398 © Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

Frith recognised the potential demand for single prints and thus Frith & Co. expanded into individual prints as well as postcards. By 1876 the Frith catalogue listed over 4,000 items and had become the largest photographic printing firm in the United Kingdom.

Image: Stereocard depicting the Hypaethral Temple at Philae, by Francis Frith, 1856 – 1857. IL.2003.44.6.10.385 © Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

Image: Stereocard depicting the Principal Court of the Large Temple of Philae, by Francis Frith, 1856 – 1857. IL.2003.44.6.10.376 © Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

Image: Stereocard depicting the view between the Upper Portions of the two Principal Pylons at Philae, by Francis Frith, 1856 – 1857. IL.2003.44.6.10.383 © Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

Additional reading:

Francis Frith Archive

‘Francis Frith in Egypt and Palestine: A Victorian Photographer Abroad’, by Douglas R. Nickel, Princeton University Press, 2004.

‘Egypt and the Holy Land in Historic Photographs: Seventy-seven Views by Francis Frith’, by Julia Van Haaften, Dover Publications, 1980.

© 2016 National Museums Scotland
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